Thursday, June 24, 2010

Theory and Practice

It's unconscionable that many on the left, people who are appalled by the political doctrine of Nazism, remain vaguely sympathetic to communism. That communist iconography is seen as a kitschy and cool addition to hipster gear is bad enough. But the deafening yawn that greets the politics of an outspoken communist (and Nobel-prize-winning) writer like Jose Saramago is sickening. A sharp, and nicely argued, op-ed by Jeff Jacoby on the recent death of Saramago shines a cleansing light on this dichotomy:
At this late date, there is no excuse for regarding communism and its defenders with one whit less revulsion than we regard neo-Nazis or white supremacists. Saramago’s communism should not have been indulged, it should have been despised. It should have been as great a blot on his reputation as if he had spent the last 41 years as an advocate of murderous repression and cruelty. For that, in a nutshell, is what it means to be an “unabashed’’ and “hormonal’’ communist.

Anyone who imagines that the horrors of communist rule is a thing of the past ought to spend a few minutes with, say, the State Department’s latest human rights report on North Korea. (Sample passage: “Methods of torture . . . included severe beatings, electric shock, prolonged periods of exposure to the elements, humiliations such as public nakedness, confinement for up to several weeks in small ‘punishment cells’ in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down . . . and forcing mothers recently repatriated from China to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants.’’) Communism is not, as its champions like to claim, an appealing doctrine that has been perverted by monstrous regimes. It is a monstrous doctrine that hides behind appealing rhetoric. It is mass crime embodied in government. Nothing devised by human beings has caused more misery or proven more brutal.
Some try to distinguish the doctrine of communism from its application. It's a noble theory, but it just didn't work in practice, they beseech. In fact (and I mean in fact), communism is wretched in theory, as was made clear by its practice.

What makes a theory good? My objection is not only political (or moral), but epistemological. A good theory is one that successfully translates in its implementation. If I had a theory that flapping one's arms will result in flight, how good is my theory? My intention, no doubt, is good. There goes the need for the aviation sector. Just think of all the oil that will be saved (a nice fuck-you to BP). But, as soon as dead bodies begin to pile up below cliffs, would the proper reaction be: well, the dead didn't flap correctly -- it's still a good theory?

Was it the depravity of the human body that prevented it from defying gravity? If man's body were "better," would the theory work in practice? When do you stop condemning man and begin to question the soundness of a theory?